Smart Motorway

MPs tell DfT to scrap all-lane-running

Introduction of all-lane-running (ALR) to England's motorway network should be halted because the Department for Transport has failed to prove the safety case for conversion of hard shoulders into permament running lanes, the Transport Select Committee has said. After hearing evidence from a range of stakeholders and interested parties including Highways England (HE) and emergency services, the Select Committee of MPs has concluded from its investigations into ALR that increase of some risks cannot be justified by decrease of others and the cost savings that result from the ALR designs.

The HE has a Smart Motorway programme planned that includes around £6bn of projects which if completed will convert around 250 miles of motorway in England into the ALR configuration. This will add to the ALR schemes already completed on the M6, M1 and two stretches of ALR in operation on the M25. The main aim is to add capacity with at least the same level of safety in comparison to normal dual three lane motorway – the benchmark for comparison of safety performance.

ALR is the latest version of Smart Motorway, which uses technology to monitor and control traffic flow and variable speed limits as well as monitoring and responding to incidents. The systems started with Controlled Motorway on the M25, moving to Active Traffic Management (ATM) on the M42, which was the first motorway to use hard shoulder running at peak times.

The Select Committee is objecting to the next major development, from dynamic hard shoulder running to ALR, which, it says, should be described as a fundamental change rather than a gradual evolution. ALR presents too much additional risk by removing hard shoulders, extending the distance between refuge areas and without taking account of sufficient safety study data, the Select Committee says. DfT should rvert to the M42, ATM, specification for Smart Motorway projects in future, the Committee says.

In response, a DfT spokesman said: “Our motorways are among the safest in the world, and cutting the number of accidents is our top priority. All-lane-running roads are designed to be as safe as ordinary motorways. In the two ALR sections on the M25, accidents were down 17 per cent and casualty rates fell by 21 per cent in the first year.

“As the Committee recognises, the busiest journey times have almost halved, and overall journey times are more reliable and predictable than before. We will be considering all the Transport Select Committee’s findings carefully and responding shortly.”

When the HE's predecessor the HIghways Agency launched the new ALR specification on the eve of starting construction of the M1 and M25 ALR projects, it revealed the result of analysis of a long list of accident types and safety risks. This showed that while some risks increased, others were reduced. ALR presents a far higher risk of accidents resulting from a motorist breaking down in a live carriageway, but eradicates all risks arising from people stopping in or misusing the hard shoulder. Risks were expected to reduce overall by 10-15%, the HA said.

The Select Committee argues that this is disengenuous, that reduction of some risk cannot be used as justification or increase of others, despite cost savings.

TRL has carried out substantial studies of the different configurations of Smart Motorway, including dynamic and permanent hard shoulder running. TRL's chief scientist for transportation, Alan Stevens said:  “The volume of traffic on our motorways is increasing, so we need to take steps to increase capacity, improve traffic flow and ease congestion in a safe and pragmatic way. Smart motorways allow this to be achieved usually within the highway boundary, limiting land use and disruption from road widening while ultimately providing drivers with shorter, more predictable journeys and less stressful driving.

“While the Transport Select Committee has raised valid concerns over the need for sufficient evaluation, TRL believes that the implementation of technology is vital in keeping our networks flowing and can be achieved without increasing overall risk.  We have conducted several research projects using our driving simulator to see how people respond to both dynamic hard shoulder and all-lane running motorways and found both to be no less safe than other motorways. Of course, like with all new transport innovations, implementation will need to be continuously monitored to ensure the predicted and desired outcomes are achieved with any safety implications immediately identified and addressed."